June 24, 2008
Today I began teaching! The past few days have been consumed with last minute preparations (along with the usual complications J ) Anyway, I have 16 wonderful 14-16 year olds and I couldn’t be happier. I have 14 boys: 4 Ahmeds, 2 Islams, 2 Ibrahims, 1 Muhammed, 1 Mustafa, 1 Hashak (pronounced Has-ak), 1 Bilal, 1 Beter (which is the English equivalent to Peter, there’s no “P” in Arabic so they replace that letter with a “B”), 1 Mina and I only have two girls; Haydi (pronounced somewhat like the English Heidi) and Sondos. They were so enthusiastic to start the class!
It’s amazing how many things they were willing to put up with (and happily at that) that American teens their age would roll their eyes and refuse to do. To begin with, they walked in a line into the classroom. I started out with an introduction of myself and the class itself with literally no idea as to how much they were actually understanding. They understood well enough but they especially liked the “special” rule “No Arabic! Only English!” They enjoyed saying that to each other when one of them broke into accidental Arabic. Hey, it’s lame, but it made Arabic practically non-existent in the class.
Afterwards, I decided to ask them if they were excited, which generated some blank stares. I figured they didn’t know the word “excited” so I explained it, and then we repeated as a class ,“I am excited!” They found this pretty funny too, so we said it throughout the class. They always clapped after repeating something together.
We played a few name games, which they loved. From what I’ve been told Egyptian schools are not quite as interactive as American schools, so I suppose they’re glad to do something different for a change. Although, I am kind of an anomaly-of-a-teacher, so maybe they were just excited for that aspect. First we stood in a circle and bounced a ball to each other and saying the name of who we bounced it to but then we played the game where you’re supposed say your name, a verb that starts with the first letter of your name and then go around the circle adding each person’s name to the chain as you go. We nixed the verb and just said names so I started by saying “Julie” then the next kid said “Julie, Ahmed” and the next said “Julie, Ahmed, Ibrahim” and so on. Three of the Ahmeds ended up standing next to each other which was pretty funny.
I’m calling my class “Trip to the US” so I’m hoping to teach on a state to state basis, starting with New York. I’m hoping to cover different aspects of a number of states—traditions, attractions, and general vocabulary that fits with each area. I had a slideshow of pictures from New York City to show, but they had a hard time visualizing where the city was. They kept asking if the pictures were from Paris. They had a bizarre fascination with Paris for some reason. One of the Ahmeds asked where Paris was on the map of the US and another kid asked if the Eifel Tower was in NYC. Maybe their schools focus a lot on Paris…? Anyway, they liked the pictures but it took them a little while to orient themselves to the fact that it was called New York City and it was in the US.
Anyway, they loved the idea of the Statue of Liberty and thought it was so cool that you had to take a boat to go see her. After the slideshow (and all the questions about Paris, haha) I told them to draw a picture of something they had just seen. I mean, they’re almost too old for pictures but I just couldn’t see how four hours of straight vocabulary and grammar could be beneficial so I decided to force them to regress a little bit. They protested, good heartedly, at first but they warmed up to the idea eventually. We ended up with some really good pictures of the Statue of Liberty, big buildings, and a few abstract cityscapes (sort of). Then they wrote a sentence on the back of the picture, something to the effect of “I like New York City” or “There are tall buildings in New York City.” They learned how to say Statue of Liberty, which I think is kind of a big deal. “Statue” is such a weird word.
Then we made “Passports to the US,” which ended up being a better activity that I had originally imagined. I actually stole the original idea from my sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon, so if you ladies are reading, thanks! (We had DPE ‘passports’ while we were pledging, similar to the ones I’m making). Anyway, the project made them listen to what I was saying but they could watch what I was doing as well, so there was a simple connection of words and meanings. They learned fold, cut, triangle, share and all of the usual cooperation words. They liked writing the title on the cover (I explained how English books open opposite to the way Arabic books do) and they liked filling out their name, age, etc. I was worried they’d dismiss it as a dumb craft project that they were too old for, but they ended up liking it. They kept bringing them up to me so that I could see them every time we finished a step.
We took a few breaks during the course of the class, during which they could go to the cafeteria to buy snacks and cans of pop or whatever. They kept bringing me things and wanting me to share what they had. It was very sweet. I ended up with 5 Little Debbie cakes, a bag of chips, and a can of 7 up, plus a pile of things they wanted to share with me. It sounds dumb, but I was genuinely touched by their friendliness.
We wrapped the day up with “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts since our class is about traveling. I’m not sure they really made that connection, but they liked the idea of American music. One of the kids kept asking over and over, “This Michael Jackson? This Michael Jackson” and could NOT deal with the fact that the song wasn’t his. I guess I’m going to have to buy some itunes so he can get his fill of Michael Jackson.
I realize this entry is basically a play-by-play of the class itself, but it’s more for my benefit I suppose. It’ll be good to remember this day when I’m looking back on this trip. Those kids are definitely why I’m here, though, as trite as it may be. I was started to loose sight of that after 11 days here with nothing to do but sightsee. This place is entirely overwhelming without a purpose.
I’m excited for what’s to come with these kids. They knew a lot less than I thought they would, but in a way that’s going to provide ME with a better teaching experience. I have to forge my own territory with the things I want to teach; I can’t rely on their already huge vocabularies. They are very intelligent kids, though, and they know a lot. They could definitely out-speak any high school senior in a battle of foreign language.
Leave me a comment or facebook message if you think of any great activities, because I’m definitely going to run out at some point. I’d love to hear what you think!